THE BLOG
02/05/2013 01:31 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2013

A Super Bowl Win for Cheetahs

The Super Bowl is one of the most eagerly anticipated television events in the United States. This year over 100 million people tuned in for the game and the fun commercials that entertain us during breaks in the football action. For many viewers, the ads are the main event, and the commentary and attention paid to these ads easily rivals that of the game itself.

According to Forbes Magazine, animal ads rank the highest in Super Bowl viewership. When a 30 second commercial costs as much as $3 million dollars, it's important to tell a story that promotes the product and makes the viewer want to share the ad with his or her friends. People connect with animals and appreciate their attributes, whether it's clever dogs or loyal Clydesdales.

Cheetahs sell products. They are the fastest land mammal on earth, and a captivating image that grabs the attention of the viewer. This year Sketchers had a funny ad about a man wearing Sketchers who saves the day for a gazelle by wrestling a cheetah to the ground. The man and the gazelle share a fist pump victory celebration.

Last year Hyundai featured an ad with a cheetah that refused to race against their latest model car, implying that the car must be very fast. I still remember the Mountain Dew "Bad Cheetah" ad, with the mountain biker retrieving a can of Mountain Dew from a (perhaps under-caffeinated?) cheetah.

Each of these ads has helped the cheetah, by reinforcing the fact that the cheetah is an icon of speed and grace. The cheetah is instantly recognized for being not just fast, but the fastest. And speed counts, in many products. That's great, and I think we can say "Mission accomplished."

But what if there wasn't a cheetah? Imagine an ad featuring a race between the pronghorn antelope and a fast car? Or a wildebeest stealing a can of Mountain Dew? What about the brown hare? The imagery is less compelling.

My favorite commercial this year was the Doritos "Goat for Sale" ad. I live in Namibia, Africa and we have a model farm here at Cheetah Conservation Fund headquarters, where we raise goats and sheep and hold farmer training programs to teach best practices in preventing livestock loss from cheetahs, leopards, and other predators. I have always loved goats -- I used to be a 4 H goat judge, and I'm happy to see goats are finally getting the recognition they deserve, as a wider range of people, particularly in the United States, appreciate goat cheese, goat soaps, and other products from this industrious livestock animal.

But we often fail to see predators in such practical terms. Predators are essential to a balanced, healthy ecosystem. Without the cheetah, prey species multiply unchecked, lands become overgrazed, and desertification sets in, affecting its usability for both wildlife and human populations.

The Super Bowl is all about champions -- this year it was the Baltimore Ravens. The cheetah could use more corporate champions that are as excited about saving cheetahs in the wild as they are about putting them in their product advertisements. Everyone knows the cheetah is the fastest land animal, but far fewer people realize that the cheetah could disappear from earth within the next twenty years.

It's our hope at Cheetah Conservation Fund that companies that want to use the cheetah as an advertising symbol will see the value in helping to save this magnificent animal. Nothing else can convey the concept of speed in a split second. If customers like the association with cheetahs, they might be very pleased to know that their purchase will help save cheetahs in the wild.

The Skechers ad was very entertaining, but in a world where only 10,000 cheetahs remain in the wild, we have to point out that perhaps it's not the gazelle who needs rescuing, but the cheetah.

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